There is a picture of a young woman that has been floating in cyberspace for the past several months. I have received it from well over ten different sources. The young woman in question, thought to be from Cameroon, is said to have been strangled to death and abandoned in a brothel in a German city. The brothel owners then posted her picture on the internet with the hope that someone might recognise her and step forward to retrieve her mortal remains for a decent burial in her homeland.
As a father of a family myself – a daughter and two sons – my heart goes out to the parents of that young lady. I wonder if they too have seen the picture of their girl floating aimlessly in space, knowing well that they would never see her alive again? Were they aware that their daughter might have joined the “oldest profession” in the world and that the money she sent home was the fruit of a life of shame precariously lived in a seedy red-light district of a German city? Probably not!
The last time the said picture landed on my desktop, my mind took me on a journey “down memory lane” and I recall what happened in the sixties in Cameroon. I was a student then at the Federal Bilingual Grammar School in Man O’War Bay, some four miles west of the coastal town of Victoria.
One day, as if from nowhere, there appeared hundreds of heavily-tanned white tourists, for the most part, single men of the greying generation, dressed mainly in shorts, T-shirts and sandals. With long-lens cameras dangling from their chests, they seemed interested in taking pictures of everything they saw. They lingered around and took pictures of old German buildings and spent hours pick-nicking in the German-created botanic garden. Whatever their ancestors left behind in their hasty exit from our land following their defeat in the hands of the French and the British during the First World War of 1914-1918 was of interest to them. The sleepy port city of Victoria suddenly went wild with excitement. Never before in living memory had so many white people been seen in our land at the same time.
Not long after their arrival, and as it was to be expected, those tourists began to shift their attention to our women as well. Some could be seen clinging, like mating ants, to the hairy arms of those strongly-built Germans. Word began to make the rounds of the town of the sexual exploits of those visitors, especially the unusual penchant some of them seemed to have for young girls, some well below the age of ten. There were even rumours of some of them being seen in obscure corners with young boys, especially the increasingly visible and idle street kids, who would do anything for a plate of garri and okro soup from a makeshift ‘restaurant’. People began to wonder why men would leave their own country just for sex with little girls and boys in someone else’s land! Words like paedophilia, homosexuality or sex tourism, were then still largely unknown, even among the most notorious sexual perverts of society.
Strained family relations
The stir caused by the sudden intrusion of those German tourists into our coastal cities began to take a serious toll on family relations. Rumours of weird sexual dealings, one stranger than the other, began to cause real scandals in many households. A story was told, for example, of a certain woman caught in one dark corner of the street, doing what many said were “unnatural acts” with two German tourists. Once that woman’s nocturnal exploits reached the ears of the whore-hunting “poets” in the bawdy houses of the town, mocking lyrics sparked songs that were echoed with delight around the town. The woman’s lover, a native of a neighbouring country, and a father of her two children, immediately packed his bag and fled overnight, before too many fingers could start pointing at him in the street corners.
Worse still, the grapevine was already vibrating with long tales of how another woman’s tourist-lover, not being satisfied with performing unmentionable acts with her, also extended his lewd acts to her ten-year old daughter. Some even claimed that the woman’s eight-year old son had also been sexually molested; all this with the woman’s full knowledge and her blessing, so claimed the rumour mill.
It was not also rare to hear of a mother and daughter vying for the attention of the same German tourist, shamelessly rivaling, and even trying to outdo each other, to prove their sexual potency to their common lover. The rumour mill also churned out long stories of mothers and daughters making mid-night visits to the homes of “marabouts” and “ngambe” men (witchdoctors) where they reportedly spent a fortune to purchase love potions and charms that would make those Germans have their eyes on no one else but them. Family unity thus took a real beating in the process.
Many of those German tourists later left our country, some taking their girlfriends with them, promising them marriage and a life ‘flowing with milk and honey’ in their own country. In those days, Cameroonians and Germans could visit each other’s country without a visa. Not long thereafter, we began to hear stories of how some of those women ended up in the brothels of many German cities, and some were never heard of again. Like the girl, whose picture is spinning around the world, they too were probably brutalised, gang-raped, and strangled to death when their ‘owners’ concluded that they had outlived their usefulness to them.
Come to think of it, we parents are sometimes to blame for what happens to our children abroad, particularly our girls. We tend to demand too much from them in material goods. Once we have a child abroad, we want all our neighbours to know that our son or daughter has sent us a new television set, or a new car, or a new whatever. We literally hound our children into the arms of illegality abroad, particularly prostitution and drug trafficking, with our excessive demands on them.
A family friend of ours once told us a story of a girl she knows, who lives and works in the southern part of Uncle Sam’s land. When this girl’s parents learnt that our friend was travelling to America, they came to her with a firm request: “Tell our daughter that the money she sent for the house has run out. If she doesn’t send more money immediately, the walls will collapse from excessive rain. Tell her the taxi she bought for us is now parked behind the house because there’s no money for repairs. Let her not forget to send another bottle of that strong drink – ‘shinaps’ – for her mother’s arthritis. Tell her papa no longer drinks “33 Export”; he’s now drinking only “jobajo,” which is not cheap.”
Our friend left with a mile-long list of things those parents wanted their daughter, of whom they were rightly proud, to send to them. After all, did their neighbour’s son in Germany not send them a car recently? Since then, those haughty asses have been thumbing their noses at them, forgetting that their own daughter had sent them a car before their son ever did? Did their son ever send them a television set so big that when people walk in it you can almost reach out and touch them with your bare hands? Is that not what their daughter did and everyone around is now choking with envy. Let them wait and see what their daughter is going to send them this time around. They will all stew in their jealousy when they see it.
Stripping for a living
When our friend arrived in Dallas, she asked her brother for help to locate her schoolmate. He said he knew where she worked. In the evening, he asked her to follow him. To her surprise, she saw that they were heading for a striptease club. She could see huge pictures of nude women in all sorts of enticing positions bathing in bright electric signs over the door leading into the sinister-looking, dark room. Before she could protest, her brother was already way into the door. Timidly, she followed him and took a seat just below the brightly illuminated stage. Even though the stage was brightly lit, the floor was dim and no one on stage could see who was in the room although spectators on the floor could see every inch of the nude women’s bodies. Two women, who had been twisting their nude bodies on stage like serpents, and shamelessly exposing their private parts to the universe, were just leaving the stage amidst the appreciative applause from the mainly male audience.
No sooner had our friend and her brother taken their seat than her brother left to the men’s. It was not long before she saw what almost took her breath away. Striding provocatively across the stage, and totally in the nude, was a familiar figure. Could that really be the person she thought she was seeing? No, it couldn’t be? That couldn’t be her friend she was looking at, as nude as a worm, walking seductively around the stage, waving a white cloth in her hand!! But, yes, it was!!! Lord, have mercy!
There, before her very eyes, the friend she had come to see, as slender as a gazelle, and as nude as on the day her mother brought her into the world, stopped right in front of her and gingerly opened her laps, exposing her intimacy to her friend and those around her. One man, who sat near her, literally shouted himself hoarse in appreciation of what he called her friend’s well rounded contours. On stage, her friend, totally wrapped in the multi-coloured light from gyrating bulbs in the ceiling, could not recognize anyone in the audience, but the spectators could see every inch of her body.
To our friend’s horror, her schoolmate agilely went through all kinds of bodily contortions, clinging onto a smooth pole and, to crown it all, she suddenly grabbed her private part and tossed the result to the excited spectators. Her neighbour, who was particularly vocal in his ‘appreciation’, jumped up as if to catch whatever it was her friend had flung in their direction. Then he brought down his hands gently on the table with the gentleness of someone protecting a precious catch, all the time screaming: “What a gorgeous chick!! Lord, have mercy! Every part of her is a woman!!”
That was too much for our friend to take; so she picked up her bag and was storming out in protest when her brother, who had been watching her reaction from a hidden corner, suddenly emerged. When she saw him she struck him with her handbag and shouted, “Don’t you ever humiliate me like this again! You hear me?” Her brother, faking total surprise, asked. “How have I humiliated you? All I wanted you to see is what your friend does for a living; and there are many of them like her, believe me! When her parents demand so much of her, this is what she does to satisfy them; and, as I say, I can show you many other boys and girls whose families you know who do the same thing in this city, if not worse. You saw your friend earning the money she will give you to take to her parents back home.
Dollars of shame
Our friend flew home a week later, a fat envelope stuffed with dollars (‘the green boys’) in her carry-on luggage. It was from her striptease friend for her parents. Our friend told us that she felt very disturbed carrying that dollar-stuffed envelope – what she called ‘shame money’ – to her friend’s parents. She had seen for herself how that money was earned and she felt as if she was carrying something horribly filthy, something rotten and the weight of that envelope almost became unbearable.
As she flew back to what she had always considered a rather mediocre job, she said she suddenly felt as if it was the best job in the world. Rather than take off her clothes and get sexually-coated taunts flung at her, she would rather cling to her accounting job in Douala. Even though she could do with a little salary raise, she could now appreciate what she did to earn a living more. At least, it was a job with dignity which she would not trade for anything in the world, not especially for a job that requires that you strip naked before men for pay!
The poor girl, whose picture has been floating in cyberspace, was perhaps also selling her body to satisfy the demands from her people back in Africa. What some of our children go through just to make ends meet in foreign lands and satisfy our excessive yearning for material things is truly demeaning.
Douala, July 12, 2010